Study Abroad Tips: Travelling to Your Destination

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Writing Irish | Megan McCormack | February 9, 2016

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After a month and a half of winter break, I’m back to divulge more embarrassing encounters I’ve had while taking public transportation. Except this time I’m in France, so the slight language barrier makes everything even more fun!  So far I yet to get yakked on, though.

My Struggles with Public Transportation: Study Abroad Edition

Pro Tip #1 for your time abroad: Never travel alone (at least on the first day) (mostly because it’s comforting to have others around in unfortunate circumstances).

I arrived in Paris last Monday, wide-eyed and dreaming of baguettes. Actually I wasn’t all that wide-eyed, as I had gotten about one hour of sleep over the previous 24 hours, but in that hour I probably did dream of baguettes.  Anyway, we had about a seven-hour wait for the train from Paris to Angers, which slowly yet surely passed.  And, soon enough, we were on the train.  All was well.  Almost.

The problem with the TGV (the high speed train in France) is that it’s really good at staying on schedule. Just too good.  When we got on the train, three other ND students and I put our luggage in a storage space with the help of a nice (random) Frenchman.  Then we went upstairs to our seats.  Mistake #1: as the saying goes, keep your friends close, and your suitcases closer.

Another problem with the TGV is that it’s really easy to fall asleep and not know when your stop is coming up. Which is basically what I did.  I woke up in time for the stop, but by the time we all got out of our seats to get our luggage from downstairs, there was already a breathtakingly long line waiting on the stairs of the train to get to the doors.  Mistake #2: don’t neglect to start lining up for prime door position well before it’s time for your stop.

Everything that happened next occurred in approximately five minutes. We rushed down to our luggage and struggled through the aisle of seats, all the while smacking French people in the face with our backpacks.  We awkwardly moved as fast as we could towards the doors with our luggage, panic building the longer it took to reach the door.  (Some alarmed broken French yelling might have occurred.)  We already had about eight suitcases spilling out into the main compartment by the doors, but before we could get everything off the luggage racks, the train doors closed, leaving us and one unfortunate woman behind us stuck on the train.

We kind of just stared at each other in shock for a few moments.

It took a moment for what had just happened to settle in. We had missed the stop for Angers, where we were supposed to get off, greet our program director, meet our host families, and finally find somewhere to eat and sleep.  Now we were stuck on train going who knew where, with people we could barely communicate with, under the influence of very little sleep.

The next forty or so minutes of our lives were characterized by one small miracle after the next. The next rain stop was only about 35 minutes away, so thankfully we didn’t ride the train all the way to the coast.  Then a nice gentleman told us that we would have to get back on a train going to Angers and helped us get our baggage off the train (some of us may have thrown our suitcases to go as quickly as possible).  Then a very kind woman came up to us to inform us that a train across the tracks was going back to Angers at that very moment.  Then the train conductor of that train let us get on and ride for free without having to bother for tickets.  This time, we did not leave our baggage.  And in less than forty minutes, we made it back to Angers, exhausted but finally where we needed to be.

Pro Tip #2: Go to a place where the locals are friendly and will help you out when you inevitably do something wrong on the public transportation system.

Learn from my mistakes. Don’t put your luggage in storage that’s a flight of stairs below you.  Although, if you do this in France, at least you’ll have some delicious baguettes as consolation.